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On 'Magic Mike’s' Lack of Diversity...

by Dan Simolke
May 2, 2013 1:35 PM
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I’m a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh. He’s always doing something different, and his recent “State of Cinema” address at the San Francisco Film Festival was the kind of brilliance we’ve come to expect from him, and hopefully some sort of a wake-up call to the industry. 

Unfortunately, he says he’s retiring, and what could be his last movie, “Behind the Candelabra,” will be premiering at Cannes soon. 

It got me thinking about something that crossed my mind when “Magic Mike” turned out to be quite a hit last summer: why were there no black actors cast as strippers/dancers in the movie? And why weren’t these characters more diverse in general, not just related to race?

Now, a filmmaker can obviously cast whoever they see fit. I just can’t help but wonder why there wasn’t a black actor involved as one of the main dancers. It’s not like they were consciously excluded from the storyline, it’s just that their absence doesn’t even seem entirely believable. 

There’s no way a cutthroat business man like Matthew McConaghuey’s character, Dallas, wouldn’t want to have this industry covered from all angles. Why omit the opportunity to represent a larger part of the culture? It even makes sense from a commercial stand-point, not just in the case of the narrative, but in the case of the film’s audience. If you widen the range of ethnicities included, the larger your demographic becomes. 

This is particularly true in the case of “Magic Mike” where a prominent part of your audience is not just women, but women going together in groups and almost turning the movie into an event. When women go to “Magic Mike,” I would be inclined to think they don’t discriminate, and may even have preferences.

That’s not to say there’s zero diversity in the film. Adam Rodriguez is Puerto Rican and Cuban, and Joe Manganiello is of Italian, Austrian, and Armenian descent, but their roles are quite limited. Also, it’s clear that if you go back far enough, everyone in the United States comes from another country. So the intricacies of “diversity” can really be debated all day. 

I’m talking about specific groups here, and with a premise like the one “Magic Mike” has, you should really cater to every audience you can.

When thinking of the film’s commercial viability, even more perplexing is its lack of a gay character. This would theoretically increase the film’s audience, and wouldn’t alienate the female viewers because there’s still plenty of what they came for, and certainly a gay man can still be attractive to a woman. Not to suggest that women attended the film purely for the eye candy on display, there were intellectual reasons as well (for one, Soderbergh is just an incredibly skilled filmmaker), but I’m sure we can agree primal urges may have factored in on some level. 

Not only would the inclusion of a gay character have been progressive, I just think it probably would have been interesting thematically to examine one in this male-dominated context. I remember seeing an episode of “Conan” after the movie came out, where even Andy Richter was questioning why none of the characters were gay. Matt Bomer is gay in real life, but his character is married to a woman in the movie, and there’s no mention of homosexuality.

“Magic Mike” isn’t a movie I expected to like that much (on the surface it is, after all, a movie about male strippers and I had my initial reservations as a straight man), but it’s quite good. It’s one of the most interesting films of its “kind” since Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” You take a naïve young person, have a world-weary mentor open them up to a flashy world of hedonism, and watch the inevitable fireworks; good and bad. Make it a bit of a cautionary tale while still crafting a piece of stylish entertainment. One difference being that “Boogie Nights” gave a thoughtful take on African American characters in Nicole Ari Parker as Becky Barnett and especially Don Cheadle as Buck Swope (that name being a reference to Robert Downey Sr.’s great 1969 satire, “Putney Swope,” in which a black man takes over as the head of a primarily white advertising agency).  It also contained aspects related to homosexuality. The obsession Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character had with Mark Wahlberg, that character in general, and a violent scene with some homophobic young men when Wahlberg hits rock bottom (which doesn’t have anything to do with the representation of gay people specifically, but brutally demonstrates the reality of some people’s unfortunate, and despicable, ignorance) come to mind. 

“Boogie Nights” is a more ambitious picture, but it too didn’t really address the gay side of the actual industry it was portraying. Also, “Boogie Nights” tends to come to mind a lot when I write about anything.

I just think it’s more interesting to diversify a cast when such a decision seems to be inherently plausible within the material. I was curious why the representation of the dancers was so narrow, and I honestly thought approaching more options would be more realistic. It seems like a potential missed opportunity to make a good movie even more fascinating, while also broadening your audience. You obviously want the inclusion to be organic, because no one wants a “token” character of any kind. 

I’m not saying I possess every solution; just that it was lacking in this regard. 

Of course, the cast and crew aren’t hurting; the flick was a huge box-office success and there’s been talk of a sequel, and even a musical. This is primarily food for thought, and maybe some readers have thoughts about the potential to diversify moving forward...

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  • Donella | May 4, 2013 6:24 PMReply

    Channing Tatum was the only one with any rhythm or dancing skills. The other guys just kind of stood around beyond the reach of the spotlight and waved their arms awkwardly around.

  • Miles Ellison | May 2, 2013 8:40 PMReply

    This is like the complaints about the lack of black women in Girls Gone Wild and Baywatch. Or the lack of black people on The Bachelor. There are some cases where you should be happy to be excluded.

  • BluTopaz | May 2, 2013 4:42 PMReply

    Jeez luis.

    Ok what about Magic Negro Mike, he strips while dispensing sage advice channeled from the ancestors.

  • CalArtian Citizen | May 2, 2013 3:58 PMReply

    This article sounds like an oversimplified journal entry published far too late.

  • Orville | May 2, 2013 3:19 PMReply

    Maybe Channing Tatum didn't want to be upstaged by hot well endowed black men? Perhaps this it the reason for the lack of diversity in the movie? Although what is interesting there are rumours Tatum is bisexual and had a relationship with former Arizona Cardinal player Kerry Rhodes.

  • Orville | May 2, 2013 3:16 PMReply

    Magic Mike was so boring there was one scene where openly gay actor Matt Bomer almost has a threesome with another guy and a girl. I think the studio edited it out or something. I only watched Matt Bomer hoping he would be nude and I was very disappointed. There is hardly any male nudity in the film yet there plenty of female nudity. This film was made for straight females although it was also marketed to gay men. The movie was dry, dry, dry.

  • Michael | May 2, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    You want diversity in you stripper movies? Search MAGIC MIKE TYSON by Michael Francis on youtube and watch how different the move would have been.

  • ALM | May 2, 2013 2:34 PMReply

    As for racial diversity, they probably didn't go for diversity because a lot of women of color (including me) saw the movie anyway. If the filmmakers felt that diversity didn't make a difference when it came to putting moviegoers in the seats, then the filmmakers are not going to go out of their way to include diverse actors.

    This post is interesting. Fighting for diverse male strippers....... :)

  • Vanessa Martinez | May 2, 2013 3:20 PM

    I'm sure many women of color saw it anyways, but many more would have if Idris Elba was in the cast. If that were the case, they probably would've gotten my money - ca-ching! :)

  • Vanessa Martinez | May 2, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    Good read. I agree with you, especially when thinking of the prominence of black exotic entertainers in the business (going by the couple of establishments I've been in my life :)) It does feel like it's a glaring omission, and I'm sure they did plenty of research. I bet anything that black male strippers disproportionately represent in this industry. I haven't seen the film by the way.

  • msjjstone | May 2, 2013 2:01 PMReply

    The movie was horrible, absolutely horrible -- I wouldn't mention Boogie Nights in the same sentence, BN was a good film, MM not so much. Magic Mike the narrative was garbage, just slapped on for the stripping sequences. Oh those great stripping sequences, that Channing is awesome to watch! I hope part 2 doesn't have a narrative at all - just dance damn it! Dance! And hopefully they will have a diverse body of dancers! DANCE, I said! ;0).

  • Jules | May 2, 2013 1:56 PMReply

    Having read the original script, none of the characters other than Adam Rodriguez's character were written as minorities. From what I've seen and read, the concept of the film came from Channing Tatum's personal life and there weren't many minorities in his dance group when he was a stripper. That being said, I wish there had been a Black male, Asian male, even a gay character but it wouldn't have fit into this film.

    Although there are several dancers, Magic Mike is not an ensemble film. The focus is Magic Mike, The Kid (Alex Pettyfer) and his sister (Cody Horn). Everyone else is there for window dressing. Matt Bomer barely speaks in the film. This film was meant to be Channing Tatum's chance to shine and it that is what it does.

  • TedTheodoreLogan | May 2, 2013 1:48 PMReply

    Not every film needs to have a diverse cast. Although I'm all for it, sometimes it isn't necessary. The story was about a bunch of White strippers.

  • Beemooree | May 2, 2013 1:46 PMReply

    Well Christian Keyes said that there is a "black version" of magic mike coming out that he's in called "ladies night"

  • ALM | May 2, 2013 2:36 PM

    Christian is going to need some big names to sell his version. "Magic Mike" had male stars that people already knew of, i.e. Adam Rodriguez from "CSI:Miami", Matt Bomer from "White Collar", Joe Mag from "True Blood".....

    He is going to need The Rock, Chadwick Boseman, Blair Underwood, Idris Elba, Vin Diesel, etc. to make his version work.

  • Darkan | May 2, 2013 1:44 PMReply

    Channing Tatum wasn't about to have a black dancer in Magic Mike as it would have put his character in direct competition due to the dancing styles. As you could see that Channing's dance character style of dancing was like the white boy with street dancing skills. That would've have taken the spotlight off of him as it does with real dancers in exotic multicultural troupes.

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